Some firsts we don’t talk about much

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Jessica Pasko at All Over Albany wrote last year about how Albany is the home of rolled, perforated toilet paper. She didn’t, however, investigate whether our hometown was also the pioneer in toilet paper holders, but it seems likely. Now you’ve got a roll where you used to have a pile of papers; it couldn’t have taken long to realize that toilet paper wanted to be hung up. A year’s worth of toilet paper and a nickel-plated holder for only a dollar may have seemed a tremendous deal in 1907, but then again, the Sears catalog was free. Apparently, if you didn’t live east of South Dakota, you’d better hope you got the Sears and Montgomery Ward’s catalogs, because the Albany Perforated Wrapping Company’s offer was not for you.

38 Colonie Street, by the way, is currently as dead-end as a dead-end can be.


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You don’t hear the word “bedstead” much anymore, which could be why Albany is so shamefully bereft of bedstead factories. Not so in 1862.

But when you Google “bedstead,” one of the top entries is from the Albany Institute of History and Art, which features a magnificent example that belonged to Stephen Van Rensselaer IV.

No doubt this factory on the edge of the lumber district produced slightly more modest bedsteads. Rufus Viele was president of the Albany Mechanics Institute, and of the YMCA. He lost ten bedsteads, a crib and a cradle in the fire at New York City’s Crystal Palace in 1858, where he was among the many exhibitors at the Fair of the American Institute.

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One of these things is not like the others

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Look for the symbol of the Troy Restaurant Association, your assurance that your food is properly selected and properly prepared. I mean it, just look for it – you won’t find it. You won’t find a lot of “lunch systems” anymore either, and I’m not sure we aren’t the poorer for it. But you will still find Manory’s Restaurant after all these years, perhaps the only survivor of the proud days of the TRA. Serving breakfast all day!

Beck’s Pocket Guide of Troy

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“Beck’s Pocket Guides are distributed each year to every Policeman and Fireman in the city, all offices in the Court House, City Hall, Jail, Troopers, Post Office Employees, Bus Drivers, Aldermen, Supervisors, Bank Employees, School Teachers and Business Houses in the City.” In 1935, Fred A. Beck’s Pocket Guide of Troy, N.Y. had grown to 96 pages and 5000 copies distributed. Filled with ads for places that no longer exist, lists of street names, elaborate intercity bus and rail schedules, and instructions on how to turn in a fire alarm, this kind of guide was once ubiquitous to any prosperous city and has completely disappeared from the landscape.

The Palace Lunch System, Architects of Appetites, is long, long gone. So are 5 digit phone numbers (or 3 if you were in the same exchange).

I like that in Fred Beck’s mind, a printing emergency was of just about the same import as the need for police or fire.

O Oysters, come and walk with us!

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Albany Frosted Foods receipt.jpgSometime in the late 1950s, for a very brief time, my grandfather ran a drive-in restaurant on Aqueduct Road in Schenectady, not far from the Aqueduct (Route 146) bridge, and now the site of an auto junkyard. A lot of his receipts from that business were saved. In this age when everything is computer-inventoried and printed out in tremendous detail, it’s refreshing to remember a time when receipts were handwritten, had varying levels of detail and legibility, and had a little bit of personality of their own. This receipt was for a bushel of oysters from the Albany Frosted Foods Company, and fans of giant warehouse fires will recognize the address of Colonie and Montgomery Streets. The business was long since bought by gargantuan food supplier Sysco; the building is just an empty shell, lined with cork to keep things cool and waiting for redevelopment.

(And we can’t talk about oysters without mentioning Lewis Carroll.)

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Francis Calo begs leave to inform you

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1862 Schenectady Directory City Baggage Wagon.pngIn case you wondered, Schenectady residents of 1862, yes, Francis Calo is still running a baggage wagon to every part of the city. And he continues the business of carman (which under one definition would be the same as running a baggage wagon). And he hangs out across the street from Lyon’s. (Imagine a modern advertiser begging leave to inform you of anything.)

Francis Calo emigrated as a boy in 1838 from Saxony, then part of the German Confederation. He became a naturalized citizen, married, and had a son and three daughters. His wife died within a couple of years after this ad.  His baggage wagon must have done well enough that within a few years, in 1870, he had established himself as a fruit and confectionery merchant. He lived past the age of 80: in 1910,  he was living at 1009 Union Street, near Park Avenue, with two of his daughters, who never married.

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Daguerrotype or Ambrotype? So hard to choose…

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In 1862, S.J.Thompson & Co. was making photographs, daguerreotypes, and ambrotypes at 478 Broadway, in a now-lost building somewhere on the north side between State Street and Maiden Lane. Daguerrotype was the first commercial photographic process. Ambrotype was a positive image on glass, using a collodion solution (and such collodion, it is said, played a role in the invention of celluloid here in Albany). And by the time this was published in 1862, there were a number of other photographic processes known to the public.

The variety of fonts in this ad is typical of the time, when a printer (most likely Joel Munsell’s steam press) showed its prosperity by the number of fonts it could afford to keep, and advertised for its business by showing them off in its publications.

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In case anyone needs more (and you know you do) on the relationship between Ticonderoga and the pencil that bears its name, here’s a little note from “Graphite,” a publication promoting the billions of wonders produced by the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company of Jersey City, New Jersey. In case you wondered where to get plumbago for shot polishing.

The Pencil Lead Wars of 1862

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I could put in a phenomenal amount of effort to explain what was going on in the northern New York graphite mines, what sort of a stranglehold Joseph Dixon & Co. was holding over its competitors, and how he who controlled pencil leads held the fate of a free press in his hands. Or I could just explain that graphite from the Ticonderoga area was a key element of stove polish as well as pencil leads, and that Cozzens & Lay of Water Street in Albany really didn’t like Joseph Dixon. Perhaps having created the first wood and graphite pencil made him snooty (whereas stove polishing would make one sooty). Despite setting their prices to suit the times, we all know the “Dixon Ticonderoga” pencil, and their competitor only leads us to imagine a lot of 5th graders snickering when the Cozzens & Lay pencils were handed out.

By the way, the Dixon website seems to think the average American dolt can’t pronounce “Ticonderoga,” and therefore they provide elaborate instruction.